- Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City
In this book Mike Davis, who teaches at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York, sets himself the task of placing Latinos “in the center of the debate about the future of the American city.” To do so, he provides us with up-to-date demographic research of the North American population of Latin American descent, especially of those living in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. As the book progresses, Davis swerves from giving statistical data to providing flesh-and-blood examples to support his assertions. On this basis Davis critiques the socioeconomic conditions of Latinos, the role of politicians in the overall perception of this group, and the impact of education—or the lack thereof—on its upward mobility. From a Manichaean perspective, for this is a book of “good and evil,” the villains are the hegemonic conservative, white, suburban elitists, who seek the assimilation of the heroes, the Latino working class taking over the inner-city neighborhoods. [End Page 171]
This heady tale, however, is flawed. In spite of problematizing the terminology used to address the people under study, in particular with reference to the census, Davis fails to mention that the term Latino embraces people other than those of Spanish or French descent. He neglects the Portuguese-speaking Latin Americans—although there is one allusion to Iberia—and other cultures of Latin origin.
Far more problematic is the book’s treatment of the diverse ethnic groups in the United States. By using race as the defining characteristic of African Americans and culture as that of Latinos, Magical Urbanism falls into the trap of disregarding the fact that some U.S. Latinos consider themselves black, white, or Native American.
Even though he notices the cultural homogenization of Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, Davis does not examine how the city has modified their cultural self-expression beyond tropicalizing the landscape through them. The second chapter offers a broad, simplified view of religious syncretism, omitting the highly charged case of the Spanish-speaking peoples from the Caribbean.
Davis devotes more pages to Los Angeles and the border cities of Tijuana and El Paso than to New York, Miami, Chicago, and other metropolises with sizable Latino populations. The result is an imbalance between his analyses of the situation of Chicanos in the southwestern cities and of Puerto Ricans on the East Coast, Cuban Americans in Miami, and Chicanos in Illinois. This imbalance is also noticeable in the chapters devoted to education and bilingualism.
As a work that tries to cover other Latino groups’ experiences, Magical Urbanism is superficial and somewhat simplistic.